Purdue survived its latest game despite its worst shooting performance of the season, which is either a testament to its strength in other areas or a major cause for concern down the road.
The fourth-ranked Boilermakers will try to solve their shooting woes while looking for their first 7-0 start in 16 years Saturday afternoon at home against the Buffalo, which has two early losses by three total points.
Purdue (6-0) lost its final two regular-season games before winning the Big Ten tournament last season, but couldn’t get past the regional semifinal round in the NCAAs, falling 72-60 to Connecticut.
The Boilermakers’ March struggles were largely because of their shooting struggles - they shot 38.8 percent in their final eight games - and that issue has carried over to the first six games of 2009-10.
Purdue is shooting 42.9 percent from the field and has struggled more from beyond the arc, making 26.6 percent to rank among the bottom 30 of the nation’s 347 Division I teams.
Those problems aside, the Boilermakers have been carried by their trio of junior stars and a suffocating defense. Purdue shot 34.4 percent and was 1 of 15 from 3-point range Tuesday against Wake Forest, but got 22 points from E’Twaun Moore, 21 from JaJuan Johnson and forced 25 turnovers in a 69-58 win.
“We really just turned up the defensive pressure,” guard Chris Kramer, the former Big Ten defensive player of the year, said after having four steals.
The Boilermakers’ stifling defense helped turn a two-point halftime deficit into, at one point, a 17-point second-half lead.
“I thought our guys showed more patience in the second half,” coach Matt Painter said. “We did a better job on shot selection, and then we did a better job of clamping down on defense.”
While Robbie Hummel was the only Purdue player on the preseason All-Big Ten team, Moore is making an impressive early case to be included on the conference’s postseason club. He’s shooting a career-best 45.5 percent and has scored 22 points apiece in all three games decided by 11 points or fewer.
The Boilermakers can open 7-0 for the first time since the 1993-94 squad, led by national player of the year Glenn Robinson, began the season 14-0.
Buffalo (3-2) doesn’t figure to provide much of a threat to Purdue extending its unbeaten start, but it has been solid defensively, holding its opponents to 38.5 percent from the field and 30.5 percent from 3-point range.
The Bulls won their first two road games but dropped their first two at home before bouncing back Thursday against Army. Buffalo gave the ball away 22 times but made 10 3-pointers to make up for its miscues in a 74-67 win, the 1,000th in school history.
Purdue has never faced Buffalo, and for the Bulls to have a chance, they’ll likely need more from Rodney Pierce. The senior guard averaged 14.3 points last season, but has been held to 10.8 points - still a team high - on 31.3 percent shooting.